In limited sports action in 2020, Indian boxers delivered knockout punch

New Delhi, Dec 30 : Year 2020 was supposed to one in which words associated with the Olympics were expected to dominate the sports headlines.

Instead, it was terms like pandemic, postponement, behind closed doors, uncertainty and, more recently, vaccine that swept the world as coronavirus forced people shut themselves up in their homes, quarantine centres and, in the case of many sportspersons, hostel rooms of sports facilities.

It was in March that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 as a pandemic and by the end of the month, the Tokyo Olympics, which was scheduled to start from July 24, was postponed to July 23, 2021.

India declared a nationwide lockdown on March 25 which brought the sports calendar to a grinding halt and so, most of the highlights happened before that month.

The most notable highlight of 2020 in Olympic sports for India came from the Asian boxing qualifiers.

Initially scheduled to be held in Wuhan, China, the qualifiers were relocated from the city after it became ground zero for the pandemic, to Amman, Jordan.

India ended up collecting a record nine quotas at the qualifiers, surpassing the previous record of eight that had gone for the 2012 London Olympics.

Six-time world champion Mary Kom (51kg) was among those who booked the quota and her journey to the qualifiers came after she beat Nikhat Zareen in the controversial trials in New Delhi in a bout that was preceded by the kind of war of words in the media that one would usually find for a big ticket professional fight.

Pooja Rani (75kg), Simranjit Kaur (60kg) and Lovlina Burgohain (69kg) were the other boxers who qualified for the Olympics in Amman while among the men, Manish Kaushik (63kg), Amit Panghal (52kg), Ashish Kumar (75kg), Satish Kumar (+91kg), and Vikas Krishan (69kg) went through.

India can still add to the nine quotas at the World Qualifiers that, after several delays due to the pandemic, is now set to be held in June 2021.

In badminton, most of India's top players, including PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, ended the year with the All England Open in March.

While Sindhu, the reigning world champion, and 2019 world championship silver medallist Sai Praneeth have sealed a spot in the Olympics, Saina and former world No.1 Kidambi Srikanth were both in a frantic race against time to improve their rankings in time for the Games.

Hence, the postponement of the Olympics became an opportunity for them to recuperate from the mental and physical wear and tear.

Srikanth's form was floundering before the pandemic-induced break, but he looked closer to his 2017 form, when he took the top spot and was winning almost every tournament he was competing in, when he made his comeback at the Denmark Open on October 13.

He was knocked out after a hard-fought quarter-final match against world No.2 Choy Tien Chen.

Meanwhile, Sindhu chose to travel to England where she has been training since. She will now make her comeback, along with the likes of Saina, Praneeth, Srikanth and doubles aces Ashwini Ponnappa, N Sikki Reddy, Chirag Shetty, Satiwiksairaj Rankireddy at the two season opening BWF events in Thailand in January.

The badminton qualification calendar ends with the Indian Open, scheduled for May 11 to 16.

In track and field, Neeraj Chopra, arguably India's biggest medal hope in the field events at the Olympics, qualified for the Tokyo Games in his first attempt at a local meet in South Africa in January.

Chopra's previous competition before that was the 2018 Asian Games, where he won gold with a national record throw of 88.06m, and had been out since then due to an elbow injury.

Year 2019 ended with a flurry of action in wrestling and started in a similar manner with the Asian Championships hosted in New Delhi.

Covid-19 had left an imprint on the tournament with China being barred from participating and North Korea and Turkmenistan pulling out because of outbreaks in their countries.

The postponement of the Olympics, however, led to the sport going into a state of stasis in the country and it was only in December that the country's top grapplers got back on to the mat with Individual World Cup in Belgrade, Serbia.

However Asian Games gold medallists Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat chose not to compete in the World Cup.

While Vinesh travelled to Budapest, Hungary, for a training camp with her support staff, Bajrang is in the United States where he is undergoing a training camp till January 3.

Bajrang also participated in the Flo Wrestling Challenge in Texas where he beat two-time world medallist James Green of America 8-4 in the final and pocketed (Dollar) 25000 in prize money.

In tennis, Sumit Nagal was the biggest mover while veteran Sania Mirza made a victorious comeback after two years away from the tour on a pregnancy break.

Nagal beat American Bradley Kahn in the first round of the US Open to become the first Indian in seven years to win a singles match in the main draw of a Grand Slam.

His tournament ended in the next match however, where he faced eventual champion and world No.3 Dominic Thiem.

Sania, meanwhile, won the Hobart Open with her women's doubles partner Nadiia Kichenok in what was her first tournament on the WTA Tour since the China Open in September 2017.

In March, she was an integral part of the Indian team that sealed its first ever spot in the world play-offs of the Fed Cup, which has since been renamed as the Billie Jean King Cup.



Source: IANS